Artist David Aja first came to comic fans' attention with his work on Marvel's "The Invincible Iron Fist," a series co-written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker. After his run on the book came to an end, he drew a number of short stories and single issues here and there, drawing praise and accolades for his cover art and design work. Aja redesigned many of the characters for the recent relaunch of the Valiant titles. At Marvel, Aja has drawn and designed the covers for a number of miniseries, including "Immortal Weapons," "Red Skull" and "5 Ronin." His current project, for which he's deservedly received a lot of attention and acclaim, is "Hawkeye." Reuniting Aja with his "Iron Fist" partner Matt Fraction, the book looks like no other comic on the stands today. If there was any doubt of this, Issue #11, told from the point of view of Clint Barton's pet, Pizza Dog, will make it clear.
It's very, very collaborative. I love Matt. That's important. We have a really great relationship. Sometimes even before he writes anything, we talk about what is the story going to be about. For example the dog issue started as a joke. [Laughs] Really. We were talking with [Marvel editor] Steve Wacker and messing around and talking about some issue and I said, maybe we should draw one issue from the dog's point of view and I can draw it like how a dog sees. It was a joke. Suddenly, Steve and Matt said, yes, let's do it. [Laughs] He sends me a plot with what happens, sometimes some dialogue and sometimes not -- usually not. Then, I start sketching and I send him the sketches. We start talking about it. For example, do you remember the Christmas issue? In the beginning, it wasn't Christmas. We were talking, and in this first stage we decided to do it at Christmas. I start sketching more and he writes dialogue. When I have the dialogue, I do the final pencils and then I do the final inks. The thing is, I sketch on the computer, so I always have all the text and dialogue. I sketch with them so I can see the whole composition, the text captions and where the balloons are going to be. I write the balloons and do the first lettering on the page so I know exactly how much room I have for drawing, or where the text panel goes. When I'm done, I send the page for lettering to Chris Eliopoulos. There's a great relationship with everything, with Matt, with Chris, and with Matt Hollingsworth, of course. We talk a lot of about the color. It's a very collaborative book. I think it's great. I'm so happy, because everyone is doing their best and we're talking a lot. It's something we are doing all together.
Is there ever a point where you're working and you say to Matt, can you cut some of the words in this scene?
Not really. Like I said, I'm sketching and I know how much room I have, so I try to adapt. Maybe if I see there's too much dialogue for this one panel, I'll have [the dialogue] in three balloons. But as he sees my sketches, he writes the dialogue thinking about those sketches. It's very collaborative. It's unnecessary to fix.
If you can read the pictures without reading the text, then you have done something right. That's always what I try to do. When I finish a comic, I check the pages and see if everything is understandable. Can you follow the story without balloons? If you can, it's okay. Obviously, the words have a lot of information, very important information, but it has to be complementary in some way, I think.
How long does it take you to draw an issue?
It depends. Mostly a month and a half for both pencils and inks. It's exhausting. The ideal would be to have a couple months or even more. That would be perfect. [Laughs] I lose a lot of time sketching and thinking about the issue, about how to tell the story visually. I like to have the plot and to see the issue as a whole. If you're going to use a grid, then use it through the whole issue and see it in a specific way. For example, in Issue #3, for the car chase scenes, after thinking a lot and doing tons of sketches, I thought of the idea of the grid with little inserts for the arrows and little details that could make the narrative flow. You need to sketch everything before you start doing one page. Again, you need to use the comic structure to tell things, to find a visual way to tell the story. When doing Issue #8 and 9, I was sketching both issues at the same time. Even before I started drawing #8, I finished sketching issue nine because they were related.
Do you and Matt have a plan for how long you'll be staying on "Hawkeye?"
We have thoughts for more issues. Right now, Annie Wu is going to be drawing alternate issues. I'm not going to spoil anything -- let's just say she's going to draw Kate and I'm going to draw Clint. We have ideas for what's happening more or less until Issue #20, and then we will see. We're having fun.
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